Hey pup, go brush your teeth!
January 14, 2009 1:44 PM   Subscribe

My dog needs his teeth cleaned, we're nervous over the anesthesia. Can anyone calm my fears or even, talk me out of having this procedure done?

After a recent visit to the veterinarian, it was concluded our beloved 2 1/2 year old Pit Bull mix will need his teeth cleaned. A couple of his back teeth have redness around the gum area, he's got some fierce plaque build up and his major breath/drooling issues are symptoms of some sort of tooth problem. Our vet said that they would know more after cleaning his teeth.

Thing is, Pup will have to be put under anesthesia while the procedure is done. That's my biggest worry. Of course, pup was under when he was fixed. He reacted like most other dogs, groggy but never sick. He's a healthy, happy dog most of the time. I initially took him to the vet for an ear infection, and he's on antibiotics for that now.

Me and my SO are fairly fanatical about our dog. He's our pride and joy and probably the best dog I've ever had, I'm so protective of him that I'm having a hard time putting him in this position.

I know you aren't my vet, but I do want to hear anecdotes, horror stories and any other information about dental cleaning for dogs. Basically, I'd like to calm my fears about this by hearing similar situations, or I'd like to hear about the nonsense of dental care for dogs.
posted by dearest to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have never heard of problems with this. I don't have the world of information at my disposal, but I'm more curious about your (unstated) reasons to worry. Not to be too blunt, but what's the big deal? Have you thought about the alternative if you are successfully dissuaded from this?
posted by rhizome at 1:50 PM on January 14, 2009

They can do some blood work before anesthesia that would test for a possible allergic reaction to the sedative. If that's clear, your pup is likely to be fine with the anesthesia. It usually costs about $60 extra.

We got our pup's teeth cleaned and his breath was as close to pleasant as dog breath gets for at least a month afterwards. His teeth went from being the color of peanut brittle to being white, and his gums don't look red any more. He even seems to enjoy tug-of-war more.
posted by ferociouskitty at 1:55 PM on January 14, 2009

Our pug was put under to get "the snip" a year ago. I was really scared because he has a breathing problem. The vet assured me that "if there was an issue...any issue, we have the ability to wake him right up."

That might be something to inquire.

My Pug made it through the surgery.

Also, I worked at a vet for a few years. I never saw one animal die during a routine anesthesia. The only time animals did not make it was when they had been hit by a car and were already going to die anyway.
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:57 PM on January 14, 2009

Friend's dog was a small Yorkshire Terrier, died during this procedure from the anesthesia. So there's your horror story. But IAMAV, I do not know anything about dogs, and I do not know the exact circumstances surrounding the little guy's death except that it was some sort of small dog + anesthesia = not good.
posted by meerkatty at 2:01 PM on January 14, 2009

Best answer: I had my dog's teeth cleaned a couple of years back. It's no big deal. The vet put her under (she was 4 or 5 at the time), and a few hours later I picked up a sleepy dog with better teeth than my own. The vet prescribed a minor painkiller, which kept her groggy but happy for the next couple of days, and then all was normal.

As it was explained to me, a dog's cleaning is just like a person's cleaning, except people tend not to snarl and bite the dentist when the gums are nicked. That's where the anesthesia comes in.

My dog has a history of health problems (presently doing quite well) but none of that, apparently, came into play.

I've seen older dogs who have lost all their teeth. That's much more frightful than a little cleaning.
posted by dbgrady at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2009

When I worked as a tech, we always recommended the pre-anesthesia bloodwork. When we put them under for the procedure, we always used the very minimum levels and constantly monitored the patient. Don't worry.

If you want a horror story, we had a dental cleaning scheduled on a chow with bad breath that could have melted the paint off of the walls. When we sedated him and were going to intubate him, we pulled out his tongue (part of what you have to do to get the tube in) and there was a huge, festering tumor the size of a baseball (I'm serious) on the back of his tongue. The techs and the vet had not seen it because it was black (like the dog's tongue) and so far back. The tumor was removed (no idea how the dog was able to eat before that), but it was cancerous and had spread, so the dog died a month or two later. If we hadn't done the dental, we wouldn't have found it.

I can't remember any patients that had a bad reaction to sedative. The greatest risk is in severely injured/ill patients or very young or very old. So don't worry. And there is no nonsense about dental care for dogs. It's the same as in people, if you have bad teeth, it can affect your heart, lungs, etc. You are doing your best to keep him healthy and happy. Yay for good dog parents!
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:05 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

We have a Yorkshire Terrier who went under to have her teeth cleaned and the poor dog's tiny trachea was damaged during the procedure. Ever since then she has had a very bad "whooping" type cough with some gagging. I'm sorry I ever agreed to the procedure.
posted by Rad_Boy at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2009

Our pup had to go under to get some puppy teeth removed when they didn't fall out and his adult teeth grew in beside them. He came through the anesthesia okay, but was very groggy and had horrific explosive diarrhea a couple of time in the next 6-12 hours.

He's having his teeth cleaned next month, and will have the pre-anesthesia bloodwork done again first.
posted by dilettante at 2:41 PM on January 14, 2009

Get the preanesthetic bloodwork and ask the vet what they do to monitor anesthesia. If the vet responds with anything less than temperature, blood pressure, EKG, pulse oximetry, entitled carbon dioxide, heart rate, respiration rate and pulse quality then go somewhere else. You pup should be fine but there are better vet hospitals than others. I've worked at a few different vet hospitals (as a nurse) and I can definitely say that most times, you get what you pay for. And yes, if your pup's teeth are bad, it can cause other diseases and be painful as well.
posted by little miss s at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work at a vet clinic, but this is not veterinary advice. At our clinic, when we do teeth cleanings, we don't put the animals under as deep of an anesthetic as with normal surgeries, but instead only use isofluorane gas to knock them out. (The exception is when serious dental surgery type stuff is required, but you don't sound like you're at that point.) This is what makes dental procedures a much cheaper day procedure. It is very likely that your clinic follows a similar procedure, and don't be afraid to ask!

However, if that doesn't comfort you enough, there is an option to do pre-surgery bloodwork, known as a Pre-Anesthetic Profile (PAP). At our clinic, we only do them on older dogs, or if the owners request one, or if there is some sort of risk factor at play. You can always get one of these if your vet doesn't do them routinely on younger dogs, though it'll likely add $40-50 to your bill. This will give your vet a good idea if there are any unforeseen issues.

Of course, none of that is a final guarantee about anything, but hopefully that will help to relieve your fears somewhat. Look into doggy toothcare products in the future (chews, no wet food, and even, gasp, toothbrushes) to prevent the further need for dental work, and it will save you both in money and stress. Good luck!
posted by internet!Hannah at 3:17 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get the pre-procedure blood work. That was such a relief for me, knowing the vet had a good basis to work off of.

My Chihuahua (not a typical size, he's a healthy 12 pounds) has had his teeth cleaned twice now and came through it with flying colors. He's always groggy for the day after, but other than that, no issues.

Once the procedure is finished, ask your vet about Ora-Vet. It's a gel that's used to prevent plaque for pets. Very easy to use, and I could not believe the difference in my dogs teeth. You use a sponge applicator to smear the gel on the teeth once a week. I also brush his teeth at least twice a week with chicken-flavored dog toothpaste. The vet was very pleased with the state of his teeth at the last cleaning. She said that at his age (5 years) she's usually starting to extract rotten teeth. Not even close to that with my dog.

Yes, you should have the procedure, if there are no outstanding medical issues that your vet warns you about. Letting their teeth rot is one of the worst things you can do to a pet, you're leaving them wide open for infections and heart disease.
posted by lootie777 at 3:29 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should also point with the people with the yorkies who had problems, is that that is a breed which has a lot of issues, sensitivity to anaesthesia not least among them. It is one of the most poorly-bred breeds out there, due to unethical breeding practices, both for the smaller sizes (and in my opinion, no one should ever intentionally breed for a 2 lb dog) and due to its popularity for puppy mill-style breeding. Pitt bulls, on the other hand, get bred for toughness, and in my experience are one of the healthier breeds out there. YMMV of course.

For a personal anecdote, I used to have a medium-sized heinz 57 dog. She was 18 at the time I finally had to put her down, but she had yearly dental procedures up until that point (we had gotten her when she was 12, and her teeth were already a complete loss). She never had anything worse than the usual side effects (and yeah, a bit of diarrhea or vomiting is par for the course). This includes her last surgery, where she was older than one of the kennel girls at the clinic and had a clinic file as thick as she was from her assortment of old-age ills.

You on the other hand have what sounds like an ideal candidate for surgeries, even minor ones. You have a hardy mix who's young but not a puppy who's been under before with no problems. We'd hardly even think twice at our clinic. And dental care is not something to be taken lightly (though I'm obviously biased). I've seen too many people who turned down the suggestion their dog needed teeth cleaning, and then came in a year later with a dog with an abscessed mess in their mouth. From how you describe it, I would say a routine dental cleaning sounds about right--the bad breath can be a symptom of an infection that can turn serious, especially if it's allowed to spread.

Hope that further clarification helps you as well, and feel free to drop me a me-mail if I can help you further.
posted by internet!Hannah at 3:31 PM on January 14, 2009

After you have this done, clean your dog's teeth daily, yourself. It's not fun - and difficult to get at the back teeth - until they get used to it. But poultry-flavored toothpaste helps! Regular brushings have done our rescue Greyhound's teeth and gums a LOT of good. From "he has really bad teeth and may need a professional cleaning," our vet has gone to "his teeth are OK-ish." Another suggestion is to use only dry food -- wet food causes more tooth decay problems.
posted by Susurration at 4:44 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Warning: anecdotal sample size of ten.

Not one single dog I had growing up or as an adult has ever gotten a dental cleaning from a vet. I have never brushed any of my dogs teeth one time. I feed them dry food as well as having ample good, healthy, safe things to chew on.

When we were growing up, this wasn't even a service vets offered, and most if not all people gave their dogs bones* to chew on. At some point 10 or so years ago vets started offering this service as well as cautioning people against bones, rawhides, greenies, etc. etc. This is no coincidence.

I think that lots of vets are super eager to exploit this service to generate revenues for themselves. Can dogs have unhealthy teeth and gums and require intervention? Of course they can. But to me the idea of an annual dental cleaning for a dog smacks of a supply desperately in search of a demand.

* Not all bones are created equal, please don't hand your dog a chicken bone then present me with a bill for the inevitable vet visit to fix a choking dog...
posted by vito90 at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I say do the PAP and then get the dog's teeth cleaned. Our vet found a tumor in my dog's mouth during a cleaning. They were able to do surgery to remove the tumor. I doubt they would have found it otherwise.
posted by radioamy at 5:53 PM on January 14, 2009

We get our dogs' teeth cleaned every other year. Never had an issue with the anesthesia.

We typically forgo the bloodwork as they are both young dogs (5 years old) and do not have any chronic health issues.

Another advantage to having the dog put under is that if there is anything else that needs to come out or off, they can do it then. The next time we get the dogs' teeth cleaned, one of my dogs is going to have a wart removed from her ear. It's not a pressing issue, just ugly, and I'd rather not look at it. But I'm not putting her under just to do that one thing.

The first time my dogs had their teeth cleaned, they were quite upset at us. One wouldn't even make eye contact with us on the ride home. When they got home, they moped around and generally felt kind of puny for a few hours. But this last time, a year ago, it was completely different and they were their cheery selves when I picked them up from the vet just a couple of hours after the procedure was finished.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:04 PM on January 14, 2009

Best answer: I work at a vet clinic, this is not veterinary advice and I am not a veterinarian.

The risk factor (in my experience and opinion) comes down to how your vet does anesthesia, how much knowledge s/he has about anesthesia, and what they have on hand to manage anesthesia. Many vets are not particularly interested in keeping current with, and expanding their knowledge of, this part of their practice (even though most pet owners have your concerns, and even though most vets perform anesthesia on a regular basis). Ask if they insist on pre-op bloodwork (having it be "optional" is a warning sign to me, age is not the only indication of increased potential risk, many young animals can have issues which are not yet clinically apparent, but which need to be taken into account before anesthesia), ask what kind of monitoring is done during the event (our clinic does pulse oximetry, ECG, temperature and blood pressure at bare minimum for EVERY anesthetic event, and there is one person whose only job during the procedure is to monitor the patient), ask what kind of options they have available to them in case there is a problem (ventilator? Etomidate for cardiac patients? Different drug options for induction?). Many vets don't monitor blood pressure, or if they do, they don't know what to do about it or have the drugs available to fix it - proper BP management can prevent kidney damage during an anesthetic event, among other things. A vet who is interested in anesthesia, and who has the skills, knowledge, staff and equipment to manage it properly, should not have concerns about the anesthetic aspect of a procedure, and they should be able to educate you so that you are not concerned either.

I would ask if you can observe the procedure, where I work we encourage this, especially with dental procedures.

The vast majority of pets handle anesthesia very well, and it is very, VERY often the case that the health consequences of dental problems in particular far outweigh any potential problems from the anesthesia - dental care is a vital component of overall health and has a direct impact on longevity. That said, if your vet is not doing full mouth x-rays, probing each tooth's gumline, and doing a very thorough oral exam during the procedure, take your pet and your money elsewhere, there is no point in just cleaning the teeth, animal teeth are like icebergs, a huge part of the tooth is below the gumline, and that is where the big problems often are, you are wasting your money if all your vet is doing is a cleaning. Dr Fraser Hale's website has a lot of information about animal dental care.
posted by biscotti at 6:15 PM on January 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sort of like what Susurration says, you can clean and scale your own pet's teeth. It's like grinding nails or anything else, just go slowly and then one day they are trained to sit quietly.

Put a big towl on your lap, put the dogs head in your lap. Teach him to let you poke at his teeth with something that will not hurt - like a popsickle stick or the nub end of an old toothbrush. Do this for maybe 30 seconds a few times during a TV show or when you are just hanging out.

As you are going along with that, make sure to play with his gums and teeth when you are otherwise playing or petting during the day.

Keep doing the pretend cleaning ever few days until the dog is completely okay with it.

Work from there until you can use dental tools. It's gross and stinky, but it ends.

Also, bones. Bones help.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:19 PM on January 14, 2009

I'm sorry, but it's really not a good idea to try scaling teeth at home. For one thing, you make scratches on the teeth which make tartar buildup happen faster (teeth are polished after scaling when done properly), second, what you can see and scrape off is not usually the real problem. The health threat to the pet comes from chronic inflammatory and infectious processes (often below the gumline), not just calculus.

If you don't want to get your pet's teeth cleaned, then don't (although it is basic health care), but just scraping the gunk off that you can see is likely to do more harm than good, and you are not actually going to be addressing any underlying issues, which is what the really important part of veterinary dentistry is about.
posted by biscotti at 9:02 PM on January 14, 2009

not sure where you're located, but there is a lady in the SF bay area that will clean the pet's teeth without putting it under. she uses a little doggy/kitty straightjacket, holds them tight, and gets to work. here's the website.
posted by apostrophe at 6:38 AM on January 15, 2009

I have a greyhound, a breed that is notoriously sensitive to anesthesia. I get her teeth cleaned once a year (because greyhounds also have notoriously bad teeth. Sigh.) It's somewhat nerve-wracking but I go to a very trusted veterinarian - paying their higher rates - and it's fine.

Bad teeth can go really, really bad - to the point that it endangers your pup's health. This is not just about helping your dog keep his teeth as he gets older - just like in humans, abscesses and periodontal disease can cause heart and kidney disease. Get those teeth taken care of. It will be fine!
posted by misskaz at 7:31 AM on January 15, 2009

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